To a Skylark
by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Stanza 18 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
We look before and after,
And pine for what is not:
- The trouble with mortals, with humans, is that we're always thinking about the past and the future. We wish desperately ("pine") for the things we once had, or can't have yet.
- The speaker is going deep here, using the song of the skylark as an opportunity to try to describe the human condition. Heavy, man!
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
- According to the speaker, nothing that we feel is pure. Nothing can escape the pain of mortality. Even when we laugh, it is filled up, weighted ("fraught") with sadness and pain.
- That's a pretty grim thought, and again we get the feeling that maybe our speaker has been through some tough stuff.
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.
- But under all that grim sadness, there's also a kind of beautiful truth. Sadness and beauty can't be separated for humans. All of our singing and our poetry and our art is connected to our mortality.
- Essentially, the speaker is saying that, unlike the pure spirit of the skylark, we are in some way always singing about our eventual death.